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Online travel booking site ClearTrip backs off from Facebook’s Internet.org initiative

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In what could come as a serious blow to Facebook’s Internet.org initiative in India, popular online travel booking platform Cleartrip has today announced, that it is withdrawing itself from Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitious Internet.org initiative in its entirety.

Mark Zuckerberg inaugurated Facebook’s Internet.org initiative in India during a summit in country’s capital, New Delhi. The summit, which was held in October last year, made India one of the first countries to get Facebook’s internet.org project.

Though inaugurated in October last year, the project became functional only in February this year in partnership with Reliance owned RCom. The service was initially launched with 38 service providers onboard.

However, ClearTrip has announced withdrawal from service, becoming the first Internet.org service to do so. The company says that, while its “original intent was noble“, it feels that it is “impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest . ClearTrip further says that the surging debate on Net Neutrality made it “rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast”. The entire note is attached at the end of the story.

While I’m obviously all in for Net Neutrality, I genuinely fail to comprehend this sudden back off by ClearTrip (and I know a lot of you would disagree). Cleartrip says that it had to rethink on its approach towards Internet.Org, solely due to the protesting environment within the country. While the company has made it sure that you see it as a supporter of #NetNeutrality, the way I see it, it looks more like a brandname saving agenda. If Flipkart and Airtel Zero’s short-lived romance hadn’t happened, such immense support for Net neutrality wouldn’t have emerged and you would have been probably booking tickets through ClearTrip’s app on Internet.org

If you’ve gone through ClearTrip’s note word by word, you would see the company mentioning, “There was no revenue arrangement between us and Internet.org or any of its participants — we were neither paid anything, nor did we pay anything to participate. Additionally we don’t make any money out of that product”

We all are fighting for Net Neutrality because we are against the fact that companies can get priority by paying money. Internet.org DOES NOT involve any financials and thus seems pretty much viable to me under the Net Neutrality scenario.

Again, I fail to see any viable logic behind ClearTrip backing out of Internet.org

The project was globally announced in August last year and aims to bring Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the global population that is not connected to the internet. According to Zuckerberg, Facebook has been working extensively to enhance connectivity in rural India. Facebook has ear-marked a $1 billion fund to help developers develop apps for farmers, migrants and women in local languages (please read that twice).

Meanwhile, here’s the full ClearTrip note :

At various points in time, we have been questioned about our stance on Net Neutrality is. We’d like to take the opportunity today to clarify our stance and take a stand.

If Cleartrip supports Net Neutrality, then one might legitimately ask why Cleartrip chose to participate in the Indian launch of Internet.org.
Here’s why: a few weeks back, Facebook reached out and asked us to participate in the Internet.org initiative with the intention of helping us deliver one of our most affordable products to the more underserved parts of the country. There was no revenue arrangement between us and Internet.org or any of its participants — we were neither paid anything, nor did we pay anything to participate. Additionally we don’t make any money out of that product. Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to a social cause.
But the recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA.
So while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely.

 

We believe that the Internet is a great leveller and that freedom of the Internet is critical for innovation. Cleartrip is and always will be a fully committed supporter of #NetNeutrality.


 

Editor-at-large and co-founder at The Tech Portal. He is a tech enthusiast with interests in new-age technology fields like Ai, Machine Learning, AR/VR, Outer Space and related stuff. Drop him a mail anytime, very reachable.


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